A Lesson With An Edge To It!

This is a story as much about a mentoring relationship as it is about a mentoring lesson. I was about 30 years old and working in the automotive aftermarket for the northwest’s leading retail auto supply chain. I was hired to serve as the company’s Advertising Manager. Through a series of events, I was later asked to serve in an additional capacity as the Senior Accessories Buyer. My boss was the Executive Vice President of the company and commanded a respect from his suppliers, vendors, partners, and employees like no one else I have ever met. Retired now, he is a master negotiator, a brilliant merchant, and an innovative marketer. But more than that, he’s a captivating storyteller, an engaging teacher, a shrewd businessman, and a wonderful human being. Ron Weinstein has enriched the lives of many. And yes, I’m one of the lucky ones.

On this particular day, Ron called me into his office for a spontaneous conversation or coaching session. You never really knew which it was going to be until after you were sitting across the desk from him and looking nervously for a clue in the early stages of the conversation. This was a frequent occurrence for for all of us as Ron was always thinking about opportunities and advantages for the business. It was a rarity that the buyers or I had thought of something Ron hadn’t already considered. But he gave us room to grow, opportunities to make decisions, and encouragement to try new things, allowing us to learn from our mistakes.

This conversation would be different. On this day, Ron pulled a coin from his pocket and put it in the palm of my hand. He asked me what I saw. I answered quickly, confidently, and without hesitation, “a quarter”. Ron looked over the top of his dark framed reading glasses as if to be clear that he was more disappointed in me and my answer than he had ever been with anyone. He calmly asked me again what else I could see.

Not wanting to be wrong twice, I looked a bit more carefully.

“Heads”, I said.


“President Washington?”


“Minted in Denver?”

Huh uh.

“The date?”

No again.

Ron flipped the quarter over and I went through the same drill with guesses like tails and eagle. No doubt about it. I felt like a huge failure.

Ron put the quarter back in his pocket and began to dismiss me by saying he was wrong. But I didn't leave. I asked him what he was wrong about. His reply went something like this.

“Oh, I thought you were a becoming a merchant, but I was wrong. You're still a buyer. A merchant can see beyond the obvious. Merchants play chess while buyers play checkers. A merchant is always thinking at least three steps ahead of his competition. A merchant would have been able to see what others don't or can't.” He went on to tell me, “A merchant would have seen the edge of the coin when buyers saw heads, tails, and all of the rest.”

WHOA! A life changing revelation had just taken place and it was demonstrated with a simple, ordinary quarter. From that day forward I began to look for the edge in the things that I do and the opportunities that I strive to achieve. It’s true in business and it’s true in life.

After a long absence, I located Ron and invited him to lunch last year. We had a great visit and toward the end of our time together I pulled a coin from my pocket and asked him what he saw. “A quarter,” Ron replied.

And so it goes. For all these years I thought Ron had been performing his little quarter routine with everyone. But I was wrong. Turns out he didn't remember the conversation at all and apparently only had the “quarter” conversation once. . . with me.

That day, I took Ron a duplicate of an award that 16 high school students gave me for mentoring them throughout their high school years. There were no words. It was simply sixteen quarters mounted and framed. They told me it represented sixteen students who, because of a story, were committed to "seeing the edge".

As I said at the beginning, this is a story about a relationship and a lesson. The lesson? Don’t be limited by the obvious. Examine opportunities carefully. And when you’ve made the discovery, when you see the edge, remember how you found it. And pay it forward so someone else will benefit from the story of the quarter’s edge.

I’m dedicating this blog, and the discoveries that are found within it, to one of the great teachers in my life. This is for you Ron, my mentor and friend.

Your comments, suggestions, and stories of your personal edge are always welcome in my guest book.